The trio of Common, Robert Glasper and Karriem Riggins release their self-titled debut album “August Greene” a few days early.
August Greene’s debut single, “Optimistic,” features the voice of R&B chanteuse Brandy in an inspirational remake of Sounds of Blackness’ 1991 hit single. “Black Kennedy” finds Common celebrating like a royal heir in the aftermath of the nation’s first black presidential family. This is an MC, after all, who can now count performing at the White House on multiple occasions — including one Tiny Desk — among his accomplishments. But August Greene ain’t all blind faith and empty promises. If Obama’s legacy has taught anything, it’s that hope has an opposing darkness that must be confronted. And no one does introspection better than Common, who flows poetic on “Practice.” “Let Go (Nirvana)” finds him soul searching over faint Glasper chords and Riggins’ percussive loop, while contributing vocalist and film score composer Samora Pinderhughes adds a soft lilt to the chorus. Far from the typical soul belter, Pinderhughes’ tone evokes a meditative state aligned with the now. On “Fly Away,” Common gets reflective while considering his own relationship issues as he parses out a past with equally public figures such as Taraji P. Henson, Erykah Badu and Serena Williams. “I was in love with an actress, a singer and a tennis player / Star Wars of love, every princess had a layer,” he rhymes, adding a clever wink to “Bag Lady” Badu herself. “Checking in and out of Heartbreak Hotel, man / Bag lady I’m the bellman.” This is grown-folk rap, to be sure, but August Greene is future-minded. The concern for the next generation is most pronounced on “Piano Interlude,” a short spoken-word intermission. “I met a little boy / He asked where are we now? / I met a little girl / She asked me if I was proud? / Of what I’ve become / And what the world will allow,” Common says, before adding, “I might put up a fight / but yet and still I’m losing ground.” When he follows up that thread with the age-old inquiry — “If a tree falls in a forest and no one hears the sound, did it really ever happen at all?” — the track ends without an answer. Instead, it hangs in the air like a point of provocation, forcing us to reckon with the whirlwind of America’s past decade.
Stream the entire album via NPR.